Judge to Central Arkansas Transit Authority: You Must Display Atheist Bus Ads

Only a couple months ago, the Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason wanted to put up the following ad on 18 buses in the Little Rock area:

The total cost would have been $5,620.

Those ads never went up, though, because the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA) and its advertising agent, On the Move Advertising, rejected the ad. It was too “controversial” for them.

At the time, the United Coalition of Reason filed a lawsuit, with the help of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association.

If you haven’t read the lawsuit, some of the facts that came out were incredible. Like how CATA and On The Move wanted a $36,000 deposit to cover any ads they might have to replace due to vandalism.

In other words, they wanted atheists to pay for any vandalized ads.

I’ve said this before, but that’s like putting out a Bat Signal to religious vandals: Go ahead and destroy this sign! The atheists will have to pay for the damages, not you!

(United CoR actually offered to pay $10,000 to cover damages, but that was also rejected.)

Today, there’s good news:

A federal judge today ordered the Central Arkansas Transit Authority to allow an atheist group to advertise on the sides of city buses.

U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright said the transit authority must make space available for an atheist group’s ads that read, “Are you good without God? Millions are.”

It’s not all good news, though. Wright also said that the transit authority could charge $15,000 toward “damage” costs, something that doesn’t apply to other advertisers. That could be cause for another lawsuit… but more on that later.

Let’s not lose sight of the big story, though. Atheist ads will be coming to Little Rock and it’s all thanks to the American Humanist Association and the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

That’s a victory for all of us.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

    WTF is with the transit authority? Have they not yet filled up their quota for lawsuits they bring upon themselves? Seriously, they lose this lawsuit, and open themselves almost immediately to yet another lawsuit due to still being asshats about the whole thing. Give it up, CATA.

  • Tobasco72

    Awesome. I will definitely be looking for them.

  • rhodent

    Something food for thought for any bonehead that thinks it might be a good idea to vandalize these:  If they’re left alone, thousands of people in the Little Rock area will see the ads.  If they’re vandalized, millions of people across the country (and possibly beyond) will see the ads when the vandalism gets covered in the news, AND Christians will once again look like stupid, hateful vandals.

    • Heidi

      Shh! Don’t tell them!

    • NickDB

      A very rational point, now if only we can get religious people to think rationaly and logically.

  • Heisenberg

    As a Little Rock native this makes me proud! Too bad I’m not still living in the rock to see this! 

  • Kenneth Dunlap

    Simplest thing in the world, find circumstances of previous ads being vandalised and find who paid damages. If previous ad holders paid for their own damages, so must we. If they didn’t, sue their bigoted asses off.

  • http://www.facebook.com/otakumommy Sheila Tagavilla Davis

    That gives me at least a glimmer of  hope that progress will be coming  my way soon. Little Rock isn’t far from Memphis! As for that judge, way to go :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000277297500 Tommy Seibert

    As a Little Rock native, and fellow atheist, I’m glad to hear they won their case.
    Let the religitards vandalize the signs, it will only serve to spread our message even further and expose them for the hypocritical, narrow-minded, intolerant bigots that they are. While reiterating the very message that the ads are making: That you can be good w/o imaginary friends, and that believing in false deities doesn’t automatically endow you with good morals. :)

  • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

    You bus ads are doing an offensive, provocative thing. It would be horrible if any unstable people did something to you. No, this is no threat. This is simply a warning.

    • Coyotenose

      *applauds* Very well done! I had to read that like four times before I could tell if it was a Poe. My hat is off to you!

    • http://aramink.wordpress.com/ Anne Orsi

      Your Christian signs telling us we re going to hell are offensive, provocative things, but we don’t vandalize them or attack you. Please accept the fact that different people have different beliefs, and live with it. Wars have been fought over religious beliefs. We have no religious beliefs to fight over. All we ask is to be left alone and be allowed to gather in a community of our own. We don’t hate you or your god. We aare simply bewildered as to why you believe in one.

  • Howie51

    The very best any artist (no parallel drawn here) could hope for would be to have their music/art/literature fall under criticism of the religious right. Nothing draws more attention, more scrutiny, curiosity and outright interest than a controversial or “fringe” work.

    Well done Pinheads! You have behaved exactly as the freethinkers hoped you would!!! Please continue to help us diusplay these ads all across the USA and Canada by adamantly opposing them with the most ridiculous ration ale possible.

  • Rich Wilson

    Never mind the ads, I’m amazed CAT hasn’t been sued for their horrendous website that is a brazen violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  I wonder if my legally blind mother in law who lives in Little Rock could use some extra cash…

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I recently saw bus ads in my town that said “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”  I don’t find that offensive.  I would be just as puzzled over why I would find that offensive, as why a Christian would find this particular atheist ad “offensive.”

    I put scare quotes around the word as used by Christians who complain about this atheist ad because I suspect their feeling of  “offense” is entirely contrived in their minds.  One has to be using a lot of imagination to find an intent of offense in that question about being good without god.  It seems sadly clear that some people will just find any reference to our existence a threat, so they’ll strike the pose of being offended.

    I suppose making a pretentious show of indignity has more illusion of dignity in it  than an honest expression of anxiety.

    • http://considertheteacosy.wordpress.com/ Tea Cosy

      I’m coming from a Rather Different Cultural Context here, but I find the “not perfect, just forgiven” thing to be extremely worrying. My own experience with religion has mainly been growing up and living in Ireland, where the RCC has done quite enough ‘forgiving’ for my liking. I’d rather a person be accountable than mysteriously ‘forgiven’.
      …I guess that’s an honest expression of anxiety, though.

    • Heidi

      I don’t know. It sounds a lot like “I’m not perfect, but I’m better than you.”

  • Corey

    “Free speech” in the USA is a joke; it can be money, it can be hate, but god forbid (pun kinda intended) a non-Christian open their mouth (place bill board in this case) and all hell breaks lose. The world of civilized folks don’t hate us because our freedoms, as we are often told, they despise us for our arrogance and stupidity. It’s as if the USA should be put down like  a suffering animal, to end it’s misery. I often wonder, which countries will combine their forces to take down this mentally unstable country we who live her is told is ;”The land of the free and the home of the brave”, which in of itself is a perverse religious ideology, that feeds into the distaste for all things American, (which is what, capitalism?) whose “motto” should be; “I’ve got mine, now F&CK off”, aka “profits before people”, aka US Capitalism, aka “Anti-We the People”.

  • Anonymous

    The transit authority should have insurance and physical plant security.  There is little excuse for a “protection” fee, especially one that is selectively levied.

  • Anonymous

    The law on the subject is quite clear.  It’s called the Public Forum Doctrine, and bus ads on government transit agency busses are considered a “designated public forum”.  CATA can limit ads for subject-matter under some conditions, but they must remain viewpoint-neutral.  You would think that people in the bus business would know the law and not waste taxpayer money violating the Constitution.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    I spent a good time of this article just trying to pronounce Appignani

  • AdBo

    The Good Without God campaign was on the Boston transit system for a while when the book first came out.  I was thrilled, but every. single. poster. I saw had been scribbled on or torn down.  Immediately following went up posters declaring: No God?  BIG Problem.

    The T has a policy that publications cannot denigrate any population.  I complained that being told I was an atheist was a “BIG Problem” was extremely offensive, and the ads were removed within a few days. 

    It will be interesting to see how the Little Rock buses fare.  

    • Heidi

      Thank you so much!  I rarely ride the T, but I might have.  And I am retroactively offended by those.


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